Blast from the Past: A Brief Biography of Tersil Obriot
Editor’s note: At the initiative of ALBA board member Chris Brooks, who maintains the online biographical database of US volunteers in Spain, the ALBA blog will be regularly posting interesting articles from historical issues of The Volunteer, annotated by Chris. For Lincoln Brigade volunteers, their time in Spain was not an isolated event but rather tied in with a lifetime of progressive activism. Tersil Obriot 1 was a committed labor organizer in the Detroit auto industry who remained active in the movement despite harassment from the FBI in the decades following World War II.
A Brief Biography of Tensil Obriot
[Originally published in The Volunteer, Volume 9, No. 2, May 1987.]
Tensil Obriot was born in Tunelton, Pennsylvania on October 3, 1902. In his late teens and early twenties he worked in the coal mines in the vicinity of Pittsburgh. It was during this period that his views on organized labor were beginning to develop. He moved to Detroit in 1924 and soon after got a job at Ford Motor Company.
Tensil became increasingly involved in trying to organize the auto industry. He helped organize and participated in many a hunger march. I’ve heard from men who were with him at such events who stated that Tensil took many a beating while marching for the cause he believed in. He was in the hunger march on March 7, 1932, and was fired from Ford because he later identified the four men who were killed during the march.
I have learned that some time after he was fired, and before he went to Spain, he visited Russia. Tensil experienced first-hand what it was like working in a communist factory, and he even spent some time in Siberia.
Tensil was home at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. He left Detroit, and told no one, not even his family, that he was going to fight Fascism in Spain. After returning from Spain Tensil was once again active in organizing labor. He helped organize Great Lakes Steel.
Although he was blacklisted by Ford because of his previous activities, he was rehired by Ford in 1943 due to the labor shortage in World War II. He retired in 1968 after working a total of 33 years at Ford.
During the cold war years of the late 40’s and early 50’s, Tensil, like so many other people, was badgered by the FBI and was subpoenaed to appear before a federal court because of his previous activities. In 1963 he marched in Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King.
Tensil Obriot was one of the most unselfish, generous patient men I ever knew. It was a privilege to know him and I will treasure my memories of him until the end of my days.
1. This article refers to Obriot as “Tensil” rather than “Tersil” as is listed in the ALBA database and on a return roster.